If you’ve spent any amount of time making small talk in the last decade, chances are good you’ve heard “laymen” joking or even outright grumbling about how they can’t keep up with technology these days. Though you may have commiserated with them a bit, the truth is that they see software developers (and, really, anyone who can fix their printer without undue struggle) as ahead of the curve. There is certainly some truth to that; as a software developer, you must spend more of your time immersed in the tech world by default. However, you shouldn’t let this fact lead to a feeling of complacency.

Staying relevant is a constant need for all professionals, but perhaps even more so for developers. With technology changing at such a fast clip, it will be survival of the fastest in many parts of the industry. By taking an initiative to become – and to remain – relevant through industry changes and market fluctuations, you put yourself the best possible position to build and maintain a successful career as a developer. Here are a few ways you can start building your relevance today, without spending an unnecessary amount of time or money.

1. Stay current with industry news

Hopefully, because you are interested in what you do and passionate about your industry, you are already doing this to some extent. If not, get on it! You don’t need to spend hours scouring news articles, but you do need to make a point to stay connected to industry leaders and keep up-to-date. It can be as easy as following Wired on Facebook or browsing Mashable and Digg once or twice a week. Microsoft has community blogs that can be a great resource, and really most top companies offer something in the way of news or blogs that you can easily follow. To make things easy, you may want to set up an RSS feed through an aggregator such as Feedly or Flipboard. This will ensure that you are updated whenever your favorite websites have news to share. Take a few minutes a day to read up on the big things happening in the industry and you’ll not only have some great anecdotes to share over coffee, you’ll begin to become aware of the larger trends and shifting paradigms in your industry.

2. Stay current with OTHER news

Though it may be harder than keeping pace on developments in the areas which directly interest you, staying current on the world at large is a necessary part of staying relevant. The line between technology and…well, everything else is increasingly blurred as the market calls for newer technology in everything from the cars we drive to the appliances we prepare our food with. If you hope to stay truly relevant as a developer, you’ll need to know how software development truly fits in with the world. Again, this doesn’t need to be an overly-involved process. Simply subscribing to “bite-sized” news sources like The Skimm or Need2Know will ensure that the top worldwide headlines are delivered to your inbox every morning. It takes all of five minutes to get your dose of current events, thanks to that ever-changing world of technology.

3. Continue your education

You’ve worked hard to get where you are, and much of that doubtlessly included education (whether formal or informal). There is a tendency for professionals to think that, once they’ve “made it,” there isn’t a reason to continue learning. Once you have that Bachelor’s and get your full-time role or once you have that certification and get the pay bump, you might feel like you’ve earned the right to hang up your hat on your education. This is a big mistake, however, in a field that changes as quickly as the software space. There are new technologies being developed all the time and you can bet that somewhere an up-and-coming software developer is being educated in all the new tricks of the trade. You don’t necessarily have to go back to college (though more power to you, if that’s a route you choose to take), but you DO need to continue to invest in your education. You may do this through formal means, like seeking out a Master’s or becoming certified in new languages or programs, but those avenues are often pricey and time-consuming. You may, instead, choose to do something as simple as taking a course on Udemy on your own time to get the basics. You don’t need to spend big bucks to gain an understanding of new developments in the space that might help you in your work.

4. Forums and Social Groups

So much of the technology we use today was developed in open source, user-driven communities, so it should come as no surprise that there exists today a wealth of industry information in similar community settings. The best way to learn is to connect with your peers; online communities are a great place to do this. You can share problems you may be having, help others troubleshoot their own issues, and generally keep your finger on the pulse of the industry by seeing what is happening in real time. Whether you find a community on Facebook, a forum specifically for developers, or a sub Reddit that relates to your industry, user-driven communities can be the Holy Grail when it comes to staying current. Many developers turn to programmer-specific communities like Stack Overflow to stay connected. Many open source resources, such as Git, also tend to have very active online communities. Even if you don’t have the time or the inclination to participate, just browsing these communities will keep you informed on trends.

5. The job market

While of course there’s something to be said for keeping informed for information’s sake, the real reason you make a concerted effort to stay relevant is to help your professional career continue to grow. For this reason alone, you should be keeping tabs on the job market. Even if you have no intentions of leaving your current role, it is a good best practice to set up a job alert or two. This might be for similar roles to your own, or for the “dream job” you’d like to hold some day – or both! Simply reading new job descriptions and staying connected to the market will tell you a world of information about what practical skills are generating the most interest, how hot (or not) the software development market is, and what the skill gaps might be between where you are now and where you’d like to go.

Whether you choose to employ all five of these or to selectively increase your relevance, the important part is that you are thinking about how to become and remain current. Taking a few minutes a day to do so might mean the difference between getting a promotion and getting surpassed by another developer.

Written: June 2015